Alone in Berlin: German Lit Month – Part I

IMG_0106Many thanks to Lizzy and Caroline for hosting the German Lit Month.

I spent a couple of hours to choose my read and zeroed in on Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin (which is also known as Every Man Dies Alone). The book is translated by Michael Hoffman. For the writing sounds utterly beautiful, I want to believe that Hoffman has done a remarkable job. My friends, who have read the book in German, should be able to validate my opinion. For the nonce, I am basking in the book, in its pain, in its people, in their failures, and in their little triumphs.

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Alone in Berlin is about 568 pages long in English. I have finished reading 50% and I couldn’t continue without gushing about how it’s already moving me, questioning my beliefs, and restoring my faith. Hence, I intend to write two blogs about the book. The first part is here.

The war has begun; not the one between countries which is siphoning off peoples’s blood, but the one that the Quangels are waging against Hitler and the Nazis. It’s not an elaborate battle, not a loud protest, but a quiet, systematic one, which is still precarious. They write postcards and drop them in places frequented by all sorts of citizen. They tell Berlin in their own way that Hitler has murdered their only child (their son). They ask Germans to go against the system within their own limits — put sand in machines, do not contribute toward the Winter Relief Fund, raise your voice silently, and so long as the voices are raised, Hitler would know that that kind of people still exist with a modicum of justice in their hearts.

‘The first sentence of our first card will read: “Mother! The Führer has murdered my son.”’ Once again, she shivered. There was something so bleak, so gloomy, so determined in the words Otto had just spoken. At that instant she grasped that this very first sentence was Otto’s absolute and irrevocable declaration of war, and also what that meant: war between, on the one side, the two of them, poor, small, insignificant workers who could be extinguished for just a word or two, and on the other, the Führer, the Party, the whole apparatus in all its power and glory, with three-fourths or even four-fifths of the German people behind it. And the two of them in this little room in Jablonski Strasse!

I read the aforementioned passage many times. I suffer from the inability to name the feeling I experienced when I read it, but it’s the kind of feeling I get when a piece of artwork tears through my heart, illuminates my head, and leaves me exhausted because of exhilaration. There is immense amount of pain in this passage. Despite the couple’s trauma, their fight lifts my spirit. Their son’s death is almost killing their marriage, taking them far apart from each other, but the protest brings them closer as never before. They feel empowered. They understand each other’s love language. Above all, their lives are second to their fight.

Fallada’s Berlin is sprinkled with noble souls. They are the stars in his dark Berlin. They ask me to think about the gravity of my actions. They tell me that random act of kindness saves lives. In spite of the depressing forces, the world wouldn’t be what it is today if those people didn’t stand up for what was just.

Alone in Berlin has arrested me. It’s hard to go on with my life when I know this book is waiting for me, with its engrossing, soulful story. Sample these: A jewess is hidden by a retired German judge, in his deceased daughter’s bedroom. An innocent loafer is chased by the Gestapo, only to make him a scapegoat. A postwoman leaves the Party and the city because his son killed a child in Poland. A widow, whose husband was killed by the Nazis for being a communist, does all she can she to save a man by thwarting the Gestapo. They are all stealing my sleep, but I can’t complain all the same.

Berlin breathes fear into me. It’s hard to live there when my neighbours are unempathetic and are constantly waiting for a chance to prove that I am anti-national, when my colleagues can’t care when I don’t turn up for work, when I can’t mourn my dear ones. In that hostile environment, the Quangels are battered yet brave, exposed yet cautious, falling yet rising. As the Gestapo is driven insane by the Quangels’s audacity, I cheer for them from my bedroom; I mutter a silent prayer under my breath for their battle to go on. I hope Fallada would be kinder to be in the next half.

What are you reading for the German Lit Month?

PS: Thank you, AK, for presenting this book. I heart you. ❤

 

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19 thoughts on “Alone in Berlin: German Lit Month – Part I

  1. Isn’t it wonderful when a book grabs us like that and won’t let go? That’s when we really know what literature is for and what it can do. This sounds wonderful – I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of the second half. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful post. I read this for German Literature Month in 2016. I was deeply moved by the book. Here are some of my thoughts

    Every Man Dies Alone was written in two months in 1946. Fallada told his wife when he finished that he had he had written a work of genius and he was right. The story centers on a very ordinary German couple, the Quangels, the husband is a foreman at a furniture factory. He has never read. a book, never late in thirty years for work and rigidly enforces the factory discipline. His wife,
    Anna is the paradigmatic German house Frau, with no opinions of her own. They have one son, their only child, drafted into the German army and fighting on the Eastern Front. One day they get a form notice saying their son died as a hero serving the Furher and the Fatherland. The couple’s world is shattered. Shocking the husband to the depth of his being, the wife screams at him, “I hope you are happy now that our son has died for your Furher”. The man can barely respond, uttering probably the first political statement he has ever made, “He is not my Furher”. Two weeks later the husbands writers the first of over two hundred anti-Nazi post cards. He tells his wife he is going to leave the post card in a public building. His wife is at first horrified by this, knowing if they are caught they will be executed.

    “And what was he proposing? Nothing at all, something so ridiculously small, something absolutely in his character, something discreet, out of the way, something that wouldn’t interfere with his peace and quiet. Postcards with slogans against the Führer and the Party, against the war, for the information of his fellow men, that was all…….Then he picked up the pen, and said softly but clearly, “The first sentence of our first card will read: ‘Mother! The Führer has murdered my son.”

    Soon every Sunday, sometimes midweek also, he is dropping the cards all over Berlin. Most who find them at once take them to the police for fear they might have been observed picking it up and be thought to be the author of the card. Soon a minor Gestapo detective is given the assignment of finding who is leaving the cards. He goes about the search very systematically, mapping all the spots where the cards are left and coming up with totally wrong conclusions about the kind of person the card writer must be. We meet lots of great minor characters, including just brilliantly done Gestapo higher ups, of whom the detective is terrified. Everybody is scared of the allied bombs, the Gestapo, being turned in by others for food rewards, and of being cold and hungry.

    We see the steps the couple takes to avoid detection and we hold our breath on some close calls. No one suspects Herr Quangel as he is so plodding, so
    dull, and rule bound even when evidence against him begins to mount up.

    I don’t want to tell the profoundly moving close of the story. I read somewhere that Every Man Dies Alone is about the banality of goodness, how goodness can just be ordinary.

    The novel brilliantly depicts life for ordinary Germans in World War Two. We see how more and more people have to pretend they support what they know is an absurd lost cause. No one can trust anyone hardly with his true feelings on the war. We see how painful it is to drink acorn coffee, to have no pork. One card said “Adolph, give us back our pork”.

    There are scenes of horrible cruelty. I almost felt sorry for the Gestapo detective when he was beaten and imprisoned when his superior threw a fit over the card writers not being found.

    The ending is crushingly sad, very moving. There are decent people in this world, a retired Judge in the Quangel’s building shelters a Jewish woman. While in prison Quengel has two cell mates, one was a conductor of the Betlin Philharmonic, deeply cultured. He gets food from outside and shares it. He has a few books and he offers to let Quangel read them but he basically said he has never read a book all his life and he sees no point in starting now. The other was reduced to an animal.

    I will look forward to your second post

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Upon your second post on this book, I will tell you of the other books, this one is his best, by Falada and a bio of his I recently read. If you want I can share with you a couple other set in WWII originally in German works

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad you like this so much. I haven’t read this but other books. Y him and he’s such a humane, compassionate writer with so much feeling. I hope to read this very soon as well. The length held me back a bit but I’m sure it rewarding. I know what you mean when you say it’s uplifting in spite of the trauma.

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    1. If not for the German Lit Month, I wouldn’t have discovered this gem, Caroline. Thank you. Despite the length, the story moves fast, faster than all the 600-pages long books I have read. I am sure you would enjoy it and I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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  5. I thought I’d commented on this but I must have read it and been distracted. I don’t have much to say except that this book has been on my radar for a long time. How to find time to read it.
    I wish I could take part in all these different litmonths. The German and Japanese ones particularly interest me, probably because I’ve visited those place 2 or 3 times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Thank you, Sue. I am sure you would love this book and there is so much to discuss. I hope the book would create time for you. Someday. I am thankful to these litmonths. If not for them, I don’t think I would have discovered books like this one. I am grateful. I would so love to visit Germany and Japan too. And Australia is in my list too. However, I am spending a lot of time exploring my state which is Tamil Nadu, and I never knew that the state is full of warmth and beauty. 🙂

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